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UNLV, Caesars launch new innovation hub in southwest Las Vegas

Updated April 28, 2019 - 8:41 pm

Las Vegas is getting a new space with a casino, hotel rooms, a sportsbook and an esports arena.

But this isn’t another resort.

UNLV announced a partnership with Caesars Entertainment Corp. called Black Fire Innovation that will bring the university and local businesses together to test, develop and commercialize hospitality products and ideas.

“Black Fire Innovation has space you can really test out that idea and build the next prototype, or engage elbow to elbow with a corporation to move that (idea) forward to some type of life-changing product or services,” said Zach Miles, UNLV’s associate vice president for economic development.

Going mainstream

Located at UNLV’s Harry Reid Research and Technology Park in the southwest valley, near West Sunset and South Durango roads, the facility will include a 43,000-square-foot lab, work space and a replica resort and casino.

Students and researchers will be able to use the two-story facility to showcase their work for industry partners. The business incubator is expected to open in late summer or early fall.

“We (expect to) see a lot of the innovations tested at Black Fire Innovation finding their way mainstream,” Miles said. “We’re exploring these ideas and taking chances to try to really change the (hospitality industry’s) story. Not that the foundation is bad, but we’re trying to take it to the next level.”

Les Ottolenghi, executive vice president and chief information officer for Caesars Entertainment, said the company will work with UNLV staff, students, startups and partners to help drive development in the hospitality industry. Caesars also will help fill the labs with slot machines and table games.

“It’s a natural partnership,” Ottolenghi said via email. “We are aligned in our direction to advance research, leverage practical industry expertise, and elevate student learning. This is really an opportunity for us to redefine the industry.”

Real-world applications

While the space will be focused on hospitality innovations, Miles said various industries fall into that category.

Along with analyzing food and music in casinos, the hub’s research will focus on emerging technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and virtual reality.

Ottolenghi said Black Fire will help get these technologies integrated into Las Vegas properties sooner.

“Our industry is highly competitive and rapidly evolving, so we have to continuously innovate to ensure our future as we establish new business models and revenue streams,” he said.

The space will be available to students of all majors, as well as researchers and partners.

“You can start your own company and diversify the economy in Nevada, or you can see your idea integrated into a resort. Or you can attract some other collaborator or venture capitalist,” Miles said. “You’re using academic skills to work on real-world problems in the industry.”

Miles said partnerships like this will keep the local hospitality industry ahead of the competition.

“If they didn’t innovate, if the next product didn’t come out, you die,” he said. “If you’re not thinking of a new product or service or efficiency that will provide our lives with enjoyment, you may not exist.”

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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